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Britain to expand its ties to Latin America

By the CNN Wire Staff
  • UK foreign minister says that Latin America will no longer be neglected
  • He sees opportunities for economic engagement with the region
  • Britain encourages free trade in Latin America

(CNN) -- The United Kingdom is turning its sights to Latin America, a region that it has neglected, Foreign Minister William Hague said.

Hague explained his country's new diplomatic engagement with Latin America during a speech Tuesday. Britain will look to increase economic opportunities with the region, where currently U.K. exports have fallen to represent 1 percent of all exports to Latin America.

"We will halt the decline in Britain's diplomatic presence in Latin America. Britain's retreat from the region is over, and it is now time for an advance to begin," Hague said at the 2010 Canning Lecture, according to prepared remarks.

"We believe that now is the time for Britain at last to think afresh about Latin America and the opportunities it presents for political cooperation and trade and investment that will benefit all our citizens. We may not have done as well as we could in the recent past, but we offer many of the skills and services Latin America needs in the years ahead."

In an interview with CNN en Espanol, the foreign minister expanded on his views towards Latin America.

While Britain wants to pick up trade with Latin America, several countries in the region, including Venezuela and Bolivia, are moving in the opposite direction from international trade, toward more centralized economies.

"I think they would be better advised to go in a more free-trading direction, to encourage private enterprise in their countries," Hague said. "I think experience shows across the world that where private enterprise believes that it is trusted and it can operate, that there's a strong rule of law, and that there is a good frame of property ownership, then actually business and jobs and wealth are all created."

However, he added that the countries have their sovereignty, and are "free to make their own mistakes or their own successes."

Britain's engagement with Latin America will include cooperation in the battle against drug trafficking, but Hague said he doesn't expect the United Kingdom to put boots on the ground to the extent that the United States has. British help in this area will be more in the scope of intelligence sharing on counternarcotics operations, he said.

Asked about another possible stumbling block to outreach in the region -- the conflict between the United Kingdom and Argentina over the Falkland Islands -- Hague said he hopes that it will not affect cooperation.

"There will be no change to Britain's longstanding position on the Falkland Islands. But this should not be an obstacle to the positive relations we seek," he said.